Monday, March 03, 2008

Like pulling teeth

This past weekend was one of the rare times when there was a major contest (ARRL International DX SSB) and I didn't have plans for much of the time, allowing me to actually plan to participate in the contest. Since Sharon was in Florida visiting her mother (and since the boys are more than self-sufficient, that is, when they're actually home), I figured that I'd spend a good portion of the weekend contesting, probably racking up a decent score (compared to prior efforts; as regular readers know, I "play" in contests for the fun of it) and hopefully catching some new band/country fills. (By way of explanation, one of the things I like to do is not only to try to contact as many countries as I can, but to contact as many countries on as many different bands as I can. Contacting a country on a new band slot is often referred to as a "fill").

I got home from work at around 7:30 PM or so (which, unfortunately, has been the norm lately), ate dinner, and headed down to the shack. I turned on the computer and the radio, re-configured the radio to use the headset instead of the boom mike, fired up the N1MM contest logger, grabbed some spots from the cluster, and ...

Ugh. Ok, I know that we're in the bottom part of the solar cycle, but this was ridiculous. By the time I started, it was a little late for 20m to really be open, but I figured that I could at least work some stations in South America pretty quickly. Hah. In about 30 minutes, I managed to slug my way through seven, count 'em, seven stations. Even for my puny station, that was just plain awful. In the past in DX contests, especially early in the contest, I've had to compete with the high-powered stations, making it difficult for me, but what I heard on Friday night were these stations just CQing over and over, with nobody answering. Well, I was answering, but they just couldn't hear me. Every station I worked was a challenge, and while I wasn't quite ready to totally throw in the towel, after about 2 hours, when I'd only worked 25 stations (moving first to 40m then 80m), I gave up for the night. Every contact was like pulling teeth, with me having to give my call repeatedly.

One thing that I did have to do over the weekend was to get up early (for me) on Saturday morning and take Brett to school for his SATs. When I got home at about 7:45AM, I figured that maybe I'd see if I could make a few contacts instead of going back to bed (as I'd originally intended). I shouldn't have wasted my time. I think it took me about 20 minutes to find one station that I could work (TI50DX, on 40m), and after that, I just couldn't work anything. I finally gave up and went back to bed.

When I came back down to the shack again at around 11AM, I wasn't expecting much, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. I spent most of the rest of the day in front of the radio (though I certainly took time out to eat and take care of a few other errands), took a break to watch some TV, then finally came back to work a handful of stations on 75m between around 1AM and 2AM (local). My "rate" for the day came out to be around 12 stations an hour, which was just horrible. I think if I'd had almost anything else to do (well, I probably had something to do, but it was even less appealing) I wouldn't have spent time in front of the radio, but I did.

Sunday morning I slept in, assuming that nothing had changed on the bands (and, admittedly, because it was Sunday and I pretty much always sleep in on Sunday), and got ready to go pick Sharon up from the airport. I figured that I get on the radio for about 1/2 hour before leaving, and what a change there was in the bands. In the 25 minutes that I had until I left, I worked 23 stations, which is about as fast as I'm ever going to work stations in a major contest. Now that was fun!

Of course, by the time I got back, the opening was pretty much finished, and all that was left was some stations in western Europe and more South American and the Caribbean. It was back to the slow going again, though I did stick it out to the end.

Despite my grumbling, I did beat my score from last year, winding up at just below 80,000 points, and getting 54 multipliers on 20m. (If you're interested in the rest of the breakdown, you can find it on the 3830 reflector archive.)

For my little station, and especially at this time in the solar cycle, I guess I should be happy: I beat my score from last year, and I got to spend pretty much as much time playing radio as I wanted to. And eventually, in retrospect, I had fun.

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